A lot of people think that matters of social justice have nothing to do with God and His Church. In fact, that the church’s role in societal justice is largely undefined, is a major contributing factor to the godlessness that has captivated our land. Instead of opposing racism, The Church in America has often been complicit with racist structures. It has given birth to the theologies that undergird injustices, and supported the policies that further marginalize the least, the lost, and the left out.
Yet the Bible says something different. God, in His word gives us a picture of His heart for humanity and justice. A number of years ago, I was struck by the inseparable relationship between the Biblical words for justice and righteousness. In the New Testament, they function within the same semantic domain. That means that the words and their root ideas are related. In the Old Testament, the two words – though not in the same word family – are often paired like twin towers in the mind of God.
It works like this: What is just is the offspring of what is right. We cannot have justice without righteousness and we cannot call righteous that which is not just. Society so desperately needs the mind of God. Christ-followers who think God’s thoughts after Him are in desperate demand because without God’s righteousness our culture will never achieve justice. Even more, without justice we will never have human flourishing. For too long, however, The Church has tried to separate justice and righteousness. We have embraced the vertical beam of the cross without embodying the horizontal beam. Our theology speaks to what it takes to be made right with God, but it has fallen woefully short of what it means to live justly among mankind. You can see the reverb of that in culture.
So, what does the Bible say? Time won’t permit me to write it all here, but the passages you read for today grant us a few remarkable insights. The crowning Old Testament passage that announces the coming of Jesus Christ positions His reign in terms of both justice and righteousness. As it relates to the rule and reign of God, the very foundation is justice and righteousness. The dominant Messianic image of the Old Testament is a King who will bring about justice and righteousness on God’s behalf. But it is not limited to God alone. God expects His people to preserve justice and do what is right (Isaiah 56:1). The prophet is admonishing us to do right now so that when The King appears we are not on the wrong end of God’s judgement.
Some people will say these are Old Testament ideas only. The New Testament begs to differ. The same ideas are pronounced in The New Testament. Jesus died on the cross to make us righteous before God, and in the same act He got justice for God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The people who are righteous should be found fighting for justice. There are times in the Pauline epistles where the terms for justice and righteousness are used interchangeably. In God’s mind they go together. Whenever a separation has been made between the righteousness of God and justice in society somebody is preserving societal privilege on earth.
Lord, give me a heart like yours. Make me an agent of justice on the basis of Your righteousness in my world today.